We are really excited to shine this week’s Sistahbiz Spotlight on Black woman entrepreneur Kalilah Wright, founder and CEO of the expressive e-commerce brand MESS in a Bottle. Created in 2016 and now sold in Target stores, MESS in a Bottle is a line of t-shirts with powerful statements and messages, cleverly packaged in reusable bottles.
MESS in a Bottle has had great retail success, creating limited edition capsule collections for major brands including Warner Brothers Studios (for their movie The Kitchen), YouTube, Roc Nation artist Rapsody, and most recently Target for their Black History Month collection. Celebrities such as Viola Davis, Serena Williams, Luvvie Ajayi, Lena Waithe, Yvonne Orji, and more are all proud supporters of MESS in a Bottle and have been seen in her “A Black woman created this” and “As strong as the woman next to me” tees.
Kalilah recently took some time to share wisdom from her journey as a Black woman in business with us. Here is what she shared:
In which areas of your business did you have the least experience in when you started? I had never worked in apparel or business at all. It was difficult to adjust to this new world.
How did you handle the learning curve and ensure that your e-commerce business succeeded in that area? I learned from experience by working in the business every day. I adapted and adjusted as I went along.
Can you tell us about a great failure or disappointment that you learned or benefited greatly from? After being robbed, and having to start over pretty much from scratch, I was forced to understand that there will be obstacles and I’m stronger for having to overcome them. From that experience specifically, I now have a better understanding of my financials and how to navigate them.
How have relationships most impacted your business? What advice would you give Black woman entrepreneurs about how to manage business relationships in the e-commerce industry? Relationships are important, but they also have to be genuine. Don’t force it; let it happen authentically.
How did you come up with the concept for your brand? The idea came to me during the Freddie Gray riots in 2016. That was a big time in Baltimore, I wanted people to have the opportunity to wear their mess on a shirt. The idea for the shirts to come in reusable bottles came from the 310 BC concept of sending messages in a bottle.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are attempting to have retail success and land wholesale deals with big-box companies? For yourself, at what point did you know you were ready for a Target deal? Everything that is meant for you will come naturally. Target called me and I didn’t know that I was ready but I made it happen anyway.
If you could go back and prepare for your business journey again, what would you do differently? Nothing, because the mistakes I made were the challenges I had to overcome in order to get to where I am today.
Can you share your initial experience with co-packers and fulfillment companies? I have never worked with a co-packer or fulfillment company before. Everything is done in-house or with partnering shops. I hire staff as needed to help with the influx.
For the visionary who’s making products in her kitchen, what should she be doing now to prepare for retail success? Focus on the numbers. Make sure your profit margins align. Keep growing internally and gradually.
What is your morning routine, and how do you take care of you? Every day I write in my journal to clear my mind and I try to run 3 miles. Daily.
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